Avenue 5: 1.02 And Then He's Gonna Shoot Off...
“Christ, I hate space.”
In episode two, we join the ailing Avenue 5 fresh from the news that the ship’s return to Earth is scheduled to last, rather than a few weeks, three years or more. Captain Clark’s explanation that the craft hit some “choppy space” doesn’t placate the crowd, and an attempt by a flustered Billie to explain the problem using multisyllabic words goes down even worse. Meanwhile, following last week’s gravity inversion, there are three injured passengers on life support in the medical bay - and their condition isn’t getting any better.
There are some great lines as the respect between the ship’s passengers and crew continues to deteriorate under pressure; Karen voices her displeasure at hapless Matt’s “tall attitude and high mouth.” Throughout the episode, there’s a sense of panic slowly rising, aided by Adem Ilhan’s fidgety and claustrophobic score, even as the hapless crew grab at possible solutions.
Searching desperately for a PR coup, Clark’s head is turned when another of the ship’s engineers, Cyrus, calculates that they can make it back to Earth in just six months. Billie is deeply skeptical (and her incidental loathing of Cyrus, a rival since their school days, is palpable), but Clark is over-eager to share Cyrus’ prediction and to deflect blame away from himself. Hugh Laurie truly sells Clark’s slipperiness here; his sense of indignation at being asked to find a solution, and his genuine sense of relief when he’s able to deliver some good news - however premature it might be.
Back on Earth, Rav Mulcair of Judd Galaxy is meeting with NASA in a desperate attempt to coordinate a rescue. I didn’t shout out Nikki Amuka-Bird’s splendid performance in last week’s episode, but she’s on fine form in her portrait of a woman trying to keep the plates spinning and maintain a smile at the same time. On reading the figure which NASA requests as a financial contribution to the rescue effort, she deadpans, “is that the number we call to get the number?” There’s a theme developing in Avenue 5 about how, despite the moral queasiness involved, it’s surprisingly easy to place financial value on human life when the chips are down - and I am absolutely here for it.
Back on Avenue 5, Judd (“the business sasquatch”) responds with fury to NASA’s overtures, and he very quickly dismisses them. Avenue 5’s talent for quips that are rooted in character is on show here: Judd boasts of his “much greater social media presence than NASA”, not long after wailing that Clark has betrayed him, “like a character in a Shakespeare movie.” Judd’s planet-sized ego doesn’t stop at refusing desperately-needed help: he’s also quite confident that his knowledge of astrophysics stacks up to Billie’s.
There’s a disastrous funeral for Joe, the ship’s chief engineer who was killed in the pilot, in which every character feels obliged to contribute (or sing, badly) as he’s laid to rest and ejected from the ship. However, his coffin is too heavy to escape the gravity of the ship, and he’s left orbiting the observation deck hourly, like a ghoulish timepiece. Later, when the three injured passengers inevitably bite the bullet, they’re spared the same indignity. Instead, their bodies are wrapped and placed in lightweight, transparent plastic boxes - which fail to launch from the ship due to a gravity reset and instead slowly float away, colliding together and spilling their contents, in full view of the passengers. The list of catastrophes is amended to include an epidemic of space zombies, and a putative coup launched by Karen Kelly.
There’s an occasional predictability to Avenue 5’s plotting, in which anything that can go wrong inevitably will, and characters will always choose the worst possible plan of action under pressure. Star Trek, this most definitely isn't. As a result, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this second episode isn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the first. But it’s early days yet, and if the show’s writers can keep delivering lines like “they all called me a shithouse”, there’s no danger I’ll tune out.